One of the casualties of the Cairns Airport re-development is the venerable aircraft that stood on a pylon outside the domestic terminal since the 1980s. That plane, a Douglas DC-3, had flown for Qantas in Papua New Guinea, and had carried King George VI around the Mediterranean during World War Two. More recently, as VH-BPA, it flew for far north Queensland’s very own airline, Bush Pilots Airways.
The late Sir Bob Norman and a small group of investors established Bush Pilots Airways in Cairns in 1951, when most people heading for north Queensland went by rail or ship. Cairns and surrounds were a log way from anywhere, and the large-scale tourism that sustains the region today was unimaginable back then.
Bushies, as the airline came to be known, opened up vital air links between Cairns and the small communities of FNQ, keeping them supplied when the wet season closed the roads. And it was regularly called on to support the air ambulance service with emergency medical retrieval flights. These services kept remote communities and cattle stations viable, allowing development and progress in some very isolated places.
All these years later, people still tell stories of the airline and its many achievements. Bushies pioneered regional air services and tourism in FNQ, it served the State’s most remote places, and it saved lives. Eventually, BPA became Air Queensland, and was taken over by TAA. It ceased operations in 1988.
Former Bushies staff remember feeling they were part of a big family, and they continue to stay in touch. They’ve planned a reunion for April 28
Many former Bushies helped me make a radio series telling the story of the airline they loved, and how it began as an idea Bob Norman had while on military service in Canada during WW2.